It's the economy, stupid. And jobs and health care, too.
If a recent survey of typical American workers is right, the topics of Wednesday night's final, domestic issues-only presidential debate are what prospective voters care about most, not what the candidates have been emphasizing, Iraq and terrorism.
When more than 1,200 employees were asked which issues most concerned them in the presidential election, an overwhelming majority, or 81%, cited the economy and jobs, followed by health care at 71%. Homeland security trailed at 60%.
A significant number of employees reported feeling so driven by job insecurity that they were working longer hours and foregoing vacations. And the rising cost of energy and groceries was costing the majority of respondents as much as $25 a week more than a year ago.
The study of workers at firms with 10 to 1,000 employees, sponsored twice a year by
The Principal Financial Group
and conducted by
, found that compared to prior periods, workers were more concerned about their long-term financial future and relatively unhappy about their current financial well-being.
The country's economic recovery, said Daniel J. Houston, senior vice president of The Principal, has not been robust enough to prevent workers from worrying about job security. "The survey shows the key areas that are top-of-mind with American workers during this election season -- the economy and jobs," he said.
The survey, known as the Principal Financial Well-Being Index, was taken before last week's release by the Labor Department of tepid numbers for September's labor market and revised numbers for August.
The company said the results seemed to indicate that anxiety over the economy and jobs was driven in part by employees working longer hours. Nearly one-third, or 30%, said they were putting in a longer work week this year compared to the same time last year, a significant increase from a response of 22% in the study's finding the first quarter of this year.
Employees are working harder and spending more, with 97% seeing an increase in weekly spending due to the rising costs of basic goods such as gasoline and groceries. More than two-thirds, or 71%, said they were spending an additional $25 a week more than last year and 28% were paying out more than $50 a week over last year.
While the subject of job outsourcing has garnered attention during this election season, those surveyed were relatively indifferent. A majority, or 58%, said they were unconcerned about their own job being sent offshore. Only 23% said they were very or somewhat concerned about outsourcing of their own job.
American workers continue to say that their benefits are important to them. They rate health care, at 91%, as very important, followed by their defined contribution plans, at 68%, and defined benefit plans, at 54%. Almost two out of three employees agree that a good benefits plan keeps them at their current company and also encourages them to work harder and perform better.
While Americans worry about their financial future, few do anything constructive about it. In keeping with past studies, more than one in four workers has not even planned for retirement savings.
The majority of workers, or 53%, expect their standard of living to be reduced in retirement, especially those who are nearing retirement.
With the decline of the traditional pension and threats to the financial stability of Social Security, Houston said he would like the presidential candidates to make financial well-being and retirement a focus of the election debate.
"I hope we hear about financial security, because we are, in my opinion, approaching a financial crisis," he said. Unless workers are setting 10% to 15% of their income aside for retirement, he said, "You will not make it. You will be a
greeter for sure."
The Principal Financial Well-Being Index has been conducted twice a year since 2000. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3%.